Every blessing? (1)

24 02 2009
Satellite image of Nigeria, generated from ras...
Image via Wikipedia

I was in northern Nigeria for a big chunk of January. The church there faces 3 big challenges:

It’s the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ that I’d like to focus on in the next couple of posts.  One of the common ways it comes up in Nigeria, would be people saying things like:

Jesus has won every blessing for us at the cross.  “By his wounds we are healed.”  That means Christians can expect to be healed, if they’re putting their faith in Jesus.  During Jesus’ ministry (i.e. before the cross), he never turned away anyone who came to him, and asked him in faith for healing.  He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.  So he won’t turn us away now if we come to him in faith.

Now there’s a whole range of things you could say in response to this.  But the question is – where do you start?  It some situations I’ve had the luxury of taking time to tackle this in depth. But other times I’ve needed to get something basic across within a few sentences.  I’ve got some thoughts on this which I’ll put into my next post.  But I’d be interested to hear what ideas everybody else has.  What are some effective ways into tackling this false teaching?  (Especially when you need to say something brief, but telling.)

So…

If you were speaking to someone who’d be influenced by the Prosperity Gospel, how would you start to tackle the issue?


{Edit}

RJ, in the first comment, made explicit something I was thinking but didn’t say: One really useful way to begin is by asking a question. It’s not the only way to begin, but it’s a great way. So suggested questions are welcome!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Advertisements

Actions

Information

9 responses

24 02 2009
RJ

Rick,
Asking them questions seems better at them drawing proper conclusions. The first question I would as is “What about the Apostle Paul?”

25 02 2009
Rick Creighton

RJ,

You’re right: saying something that climaxes in a question is a great way to go.
An choosing an example like Paul is clear and concrete.
One of the problems with the prosperity gospel is that it has no room for a “theology of suffering” – no explanation for how suffering can play a part in God’s purposes.

Of course, someone who’s been really influenced by the prosperity gospel might well come back with something like “Well, the Apostle Paul wasn’t perfect either. At times he fell short of God’s purposes for him.”

But then that gets you into a conversation about Paul and his experience of the Christian life – which is a valuable conversation to have.

What other questions would people ask?

24 02 2009
Laura

I would ask them to clarify what the word “blessing” means in the Scriptures. I would ask them, “What about the man born blind? Jesus specifically said that he was NOT born blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin.” I would ask them to explain why Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and follow Jesus, if those possessions really signified God’s blessings.

I would ask them why God didn’t “deliver” Peter from martyrdom. Being executed by the state doesn’t look like God’s “healing” and “blessing”!!

I would ask, “Why does God allow persecution of believers to continue? Why is the church growing faster in areas of intense persecution than anywhere else, if God’s purpose for his church is ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’ and ‘deliverance’?”

I would ask them what the Scripture means when it talks about God’s love for us working itself out in discipline.

Oh gracious. I could go ON and ON. The prosperity/happiness “gospel” makes me one cranky old biddy.

25 02 2009
Rick Creighton

Laura,

I know exactly where you coming from! One of the things that really concerns me about the “prosperity gospel” is the damage it does to people who go through hard times – and are told that if they had enough faith it would all be better. The nasty underbelly of this “gospel”.

There are so many parts of the Bible that point in an entirely different direction – you’ve picked out some compelling ones – thanks!

Would others take a similar tack? Or any variations?

24 02 2009
Joe G.

Rick,

There are a number of passages which speak of the suffering that Christians should expect to experience. Of the top of my head, I can think of Hebrews 2, 1 Peter 1 & 4, &, of course, James 1 as examples from the NT. From the OT, we obviously have the book of Job. I think people should be asked how believers are to understand these voices that point to the fact that suffering should be expected.

Another NT theme that I think would be helpful to discuss is that of taking up one’s cross and following Christ. I think that helping individuals understand the NT context of this phrase is very helpful. Jesus is saying that they must be willing to endure a shameful death, if they are going to be counted as disciples. This obviously brings up the point of Christ’s own suffering. I think that through Christ’s own suffering we can illustrate that suffering has an appropriate place in God’s providential plan. Although it is difficult for us to accept, God uses suffering to bring about His plan of redeeming many people and showing Himself to be glorious.

Where does most of this prosperity Gospel come from? Is it something that is being ‘exported’ from the US to Africa, or is it developing from within the culture?

25 02 2009
Rick Creighton

Joe,

Good list of verses!
But I also liked the way you built on the individual Scriptures, to move towards wider themes that recur throughout Scripture. Specifically:
– the many voices that all say suffering is to be expected
– taking up one’s cross and following a suffering Saviour

I think I’ll pick up on this further in the next post.

As for how the Prosperity Gospel got to Nigeria (and Africa more widely – but it’s Nigeria I’m more familar with) – I believe that it did spread across from America first, and is still reinforced via imported books, satellite TV, etc. But it is now also indigenous – even if there was further input from America, the Prosperity Gospel would be part of the African scene for years to come.

(I’ve also been told that African Traditional Religions are usually focused on life here and now, and not that interested in eternity. So there may be a natural affinity between the worldview(s) of African Traditional Religions, and the concerns of the Prosperity Gospel.)

24 02 2009
RJ

The Prosperity gospel actually make it harder for people to get into the Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God then comes with a financial price tag, not simply laying one’s life down to follow the Christ. It would follow suit then, that Hollywood celebrities don’t need Jesus, because they are wealthy already. Is that a sign of God’s blessing on Hollywood out of their right relationship with the Father?

If anyone should have modeled a wealthy life, if according to the prosperity gospel, shouldn’t it have been Jesus? He was born in a stable not a palace, as he grew up in common Jewish family. Jesus made replied to one desiring to follow Him, “…The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt,. 8:20). This hardly sounds like the words of a wealthy man.

Recall Peter when He was asked to give alms by a needy person, to which Peter replied, “…Silver and gold have I none. Recall Simon the Sorcerer wanting to buy the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, Peter said, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.”

It wasn’t until the prodigal son lost all his money that he was humbled to repent toward God and his father.

We are not to “name it and claim it!” He (God) tells me what to do, not the reverse that is why He is Lord!

25 02 2009
Rick Creighton

RJ,

Again, I think what you’re doing in tying everything back to Jesus himself is a really good way to go. That reinforces Joe’s point: Jesus is Lord, so if we’re following him (as he tells us to!) then we’ve got to ask: What does that look like? If we’re following Jesus, then what did he actually do? How did he live?

That’s a great direction to take the conversation in. Now, of course, you might get a response along the lines of “That was before the Cross. Now, after the Resurrection Jesus reigns in resurrection power. If we’re following him now, we should be sharing in that power, etc, etc, etc.” But even with an answer like that, you’ve still got right to the heart of the matter: what should following Jesus look like? And there’s plenty of places in the Bible that give an answer!

28 02 2009
Laura

My response to the “resurrection power” thing would be: “Did Christ come and live a perfect life, die a bloody death in our place on the Cross, conquer death, rise victoriously, and ascend to the Father to intercede for us… so you could drive a Cadillac instead of a Honda? So you’d never get the sniffles again? So you’d quit feeling bad about yourself? Where, exactly, do you get that from Scripture?”

🙂




%d bloggers like this: